COVER STORY

De­signer-la­bel Euro­pean brands are flood­ing Aus­tralia’s small car mar­ket

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Inside - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@cars­guide.com.au

Large isn’t the same as lux­ury. Not any more. The lat­est hatch­backs from Europe bring all the com­fort and lux­ury you de­sire with speed, agility and econ­omy. We in­tro­duce the pick of the pres­tige pocket rock­ets.

SMALL cars are cheaper than big cars, right? Well, not nec­es­sar­ily.

While start­ing prices for tid­dlers have fallen be­low $12,000, we’re also see­ing Europe’s hottest mo­tor­ing trend – the pre­mium-priced small car – ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralian show­rooms.

Most EU coun­tries now have en­gine size/emis­sions-based tax scales, span­ning thou­sands of Eu­ros in penal­ties and con­ces­sions, to en­cour­age buy­ers into low-emis­sion, fuel- efficient cars. This car­rot and stick ap­proach has seen the small car class in Europe

‘‘ ex­plode side­ways’’, says Ed­ward Rowe, spokesman for the lo­cal im­porter of Alfa Romeo and Citroen.

‘‘ Peo­ple who were once pay­ing pre­mium prices for larger cars are now look­ing at smaller ones. They want the same lev­els of lux­ury, re­fine­ment, safety and equip­ment, plus an iden­ti­fi­able brand im­age, so new play­ers are en­ter­ing the mar­ket and new trends are emerg­ing.’’

The class is also be­com­ing a tech­no­log­i­cal fron­tier, with in­no­va­tive en­gi­neer­ing that has re­duced fuel con­sump­tion and emis­sions for petrol and diesel en­gines to amaz­ingly low lev­els, with­out com­pro­mis­ing per­for­mance.

Fiat, for ex­am­ple, has just re­leased in Europe a vari­ant of its cute lit­tle 500 with a tur­bocharged 900cc twocylin­der petrol en­gine, the Twin Air, that pro­duces a re­spectable (by small car stan­dards) 63kW of power, av­er­ages 4.1 litres per 100km, and has the world’s low­est CO emis­sions for a petrol en­gine: 92-95g/km.

If you’re go­ing to com­mand big money for a small car, you have to make it de­sir­able; as you can see from the pho­tos, this is very much a de­sign­er­driven class, styled to get you no­ticed on the street.

So if you’re cashed up, en­vi­ron­men­tally savvy and reckon a big car is a waste of space, here’s a se­lec­tion of Europe’s best de­sign­er­la­bel drives.

AUDI A1 From $29,900 OK, it’s a Volk­swa­gen Polo un­der­neath, but Audi’s new small car is un­de­ni­ably cool, and sportier sus­pen­sion tun­ing also makes it a more in­volv­ing, en­joy­able drive.

The 90kW 1.4-litre tur­bopetrol en­gine is a neat fit with the op­tional ($2350) seven-speed robobox, av­er­ag­ing 6.5L/100km around town.

Audi, how­ever, wants an ex­tra $1800 for a ‘‘ me­dia pack­age’’ with Blue­tooth, which is ludicrous. It is stan­dard fare in the $12,990 Nis­san Mi­cra. And you can also buy the more pow­er­ful, faster, and bet­ter-equipped Polo GTi for $2110 less.

CITROEN DS3 From $32,990 In­side and out, it’s the most dis­tinc­tive de­sign in small cars.

The DS3 is also lux­u­ri­ously com­fort­able . . . in a class that doesn’t gen­er­ally do smooth or sup­ple.

The D-Style runs an 88kW 1.6-litre petrol en­gine with a four-speed au­to­matic.

If you want an auto, four speeds are not enough to get use­ful per­for­mance from a small en­gine. Go straight to

Top-shelf: Model Jessica finds plenty to like about the Citroen DS3

Turn­ing heads: The Audi A1 epit­o­mises the trend to­wards lux­ury and re­fine­ment in the small­car class

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